In 2014 I was hungry for a new challenge. I’d done some crazy stuff over the years, but most of it involved trading time for money (consulting, freelancing, etc). I’m sure many people reading this article can relate.

I started noticing a lot of ads in my Facebook News Feed promoting webinars. I’d known about webinars for years, but had only hosted one in 2011. I decided to sign up for a few of the webinars and see what all these folks were up to. This was my introduction to the world of creating online courses.

Nearly every webinar I watched went something like this:

  • Introduction of person hosting the webinar
  • Free content for 20-40 minutes
  • 10 minute pitch at the end for an online course about webinar content

And this wasn’t on just one or two of the webinars I watched. It was 20+ over the period of a month. This was a repetitive trend for a reason:

It worked.

So I set out to create my own online course. (In this post I talk specifically about how I created the topic for my course.) I’d never thought about creating an online course, but knew if I hunkered down I could make it happen.

 

Course Content Creation Process

I’m sure there are plenty of other resources out there from other online course creators. I encourage you to read through my process below and learn from other folks as well. Don’t get sucked into analysis paralysis though!

I reused the process I put in place when I wrote my book. I knew creating an online course wouldn’t be too different from that. Here’s that process:

  1. Create a Google Doc.
  2. Outline the major sections of the course (Lessons).
  3. Jot down notes and ideas for each section, nothing concrete.
  4. Take a break.
  5. Pick one section and brain dump my thoughts on it.
  6. Take a break.
  7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until all sections have rough content written.
  8. Once all the sections written, go through them and clean them up (like a second draft).
  9. Add any ideas for lesson resources (if necessary).
  10. Show the course outline to a friend to get feedback.

Once I had a good foundation of content for my course, I could start to structure it and organize it into actual video lessons:

  1. Organize the sections in chronological order and number them (this helps determine your amount of course lessons).
  2. Solidify resources for each lesson (if you have them).
  3. Create Powerpoint or Keynote presentation (or Prezi, etc) for each course lesson. Use the written content as a guide to create lesson slides. (It’s helpful to lock in the design and style of your first lesson so you can simply reuse it going forward.)
  4. Take a break when you finish a lesson’s presentation.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 until all your lesson presentations are done.
  6. Celebrate when you finish creating your lessons!
  7. End celebration and show lesson presentations to a friend for feedback (get ready to add imagery, simplify things, etc).
  8. Use Quicktime, Screeny or GoToWebinar to run your presentation and recording your screen while doing it.* If you’re going to show video of yourself during a lesson, invest in a decent webcam (this Logitech one is solid and is very affordable).* IMPORTANT: Use a good microphone while recording your audio. I like RODE’s products and use the RODE Podcaster (more expensive) and RODE SmartLav (less expensive). *Audio quality is very important!*
  9. Once you’ve recorded video of all your lessons, upload your lessons to Wistia, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.* If you want to offer just audio of your lesson, you should easily be able to convert your video file into an audio file (Quicktime does this easily). SoundCloud is great for sharing audio content.
  10. The hard part of creating your course content is done!

Getting the content for your course done is crucial. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to get done. You can always go back and tweak things, redo certain lessons (prepare for this) and add more content later.
 

Building the Actual Course

I spent a few hours researching online course platforms. To my surprise, there were a ton of them out there. I’m not going to go into detail comparing the features of every online course platform because I’ll be doing an in-depth comparison post soon. With exception to Fedora (now Teachable), all of the platforms had three recurring problems (in my mind):

  1. The course platforms were charging too much: High monthly fees and high transaction fees.
  2. The course platforms weren’t simple, easy to use (no technical knowledge required).
  3. The course platforms seemed to want to own my content and control the branding of my course.

So I did what any budding entrepreneur with a background in design does: I created my own course framework. I hopped on dribbble for an hour and searched terms like “course” and “good UI” and “learning.” Once I was inspired, I opened Photoshop and gave myself a 4-hour window to design a course layout that I’d be proud of and would want to use myself.

This was the initial design of what would later become the framework for Teachery:

Once the design was at the “good enough” stage I emailed a JPG to a few friends who were WordPress developers. I asked them what they’d charge to turn my design into a functional online course.

A few hours later I had a few responses and the best price was $1,800 and a timeline of two weeks. I justified the price and time for these reasons:

  • First, and most importantly, I’d make 100% of the revenue from any course (forever!)
  • I had complete control of changing any features, design tweaks, etc (not bound by an existing platform’s technical limitations).
  • If my course framework worked, I could potentially sell it as a “WordPress Theme” of sorts (already looking ahead).
  • I only needed to sell four courses at $500/ea to be profitable. I knew that was absolutely feasible.
  • My course would live on my own domain and would look like a standalone product.

I paid the developer 50% of the $1,800 and he was on his way.

Two weeks later my design mockup was a fully functional online course. I could add and delete Lessons. I could embed my course videos. I could add and style my course content (from my Google Doc transcripts). I had a simple order page that could accept credit cards. I officially had created my first online course.

 

Getting Initial Feedback on My Online Course

Once my course was created I passed a login to a few friends for feedback on the content. To my surprise, almost everyone I shared the link with responded with something to the effect of:

“The course content looks good, but what platform is this? It looks awesome! I want it!”

I was completely surprised. I knew down the road I was going to think about productizing my course framework, but I didn’t know the first response from people would be about that. And the more I shared it, the more people asked about getting a version for themselves.

I share this little section with you because these email conversations were the catalyst that led to creating Teachery.
 

Creating My First Webinar Sales Funnel for My Online Course

To be 100% honest, I had never heard of a “sales funnel” before April of 2014. I’d sold a boatload of things/services online, but had never consciously created sales funnels.

If you don’t know what a sales funnel is, don’t feel bad. It’s really just an industry term for a sales strategy. Plain and simple. And using a webinar to sell a product doesn’t have to be sleazy or underhanded. Offer great value for 95% of the webinar and spend the remaining 5% selling a product that adds even more value to viewer. (Future post on not-sleazy webinar strategies coming soon!)

I’ll break down the main funnel I created in a moment, but here’s a visual look at the typical sales funnel I was going for (and had seen in action in all the previously mentioned webinars):

There are a bunch of tools that help automate (or expedite) the sales funnel process.

NOTE: Before we go any further I want to point out I’ll be sharing links to products I use and love. I share an affiliate link and a normal link. The affiliate link gives me a tiny commission and doesn’t cost you any extra. If you don’t want to use my affiliate links I share non-affiliate versions for each product. But hey, if it doesn’t cost you extra, may as well use my link right?

Let’s dive into the funnel, ladies and gents:

Step #1: Schedule your webinar a week in advance

  • I use GoToWebinar (GTW) and love them.
  • Fill out your webinar information, this is not critical sales copy.
  • GTW integrates with LeadPages, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
  • I’ve seen that Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4pm EST are the best times for webinars (highest attendance and participation).
  • If you want to use GoToWebinar, here’s my affiliate link and you can try it free for 30 days (here’s a non-affiliate link).

Step #2: Create a new email list in MailChimp (or whatever provider you use)

  • I love MailChimp and they integrate with LeadPages (more coming in a second).
  • I like to use the list naming convention “October 22 Webinar” for each webinar I do.
  • If you want to use MailChimp, here’s my affiliate link. MailChimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers. (Here’s a non-affiliate link.)

Step #3: Use LeadPages to create a landing page for your webinar signup

  • I can’t say enough good things about the ease of use and simplicity of LeadPages.
  • Choose a webinar template you like and customize the colors/images to your liking.
  • Keep your sales copy short and sweet to get people to register for your webinar.
  • Integrate your LeadPage with GTW and MailChimp (you’ll be able to connect them and then select the webinar/list you want).
  • You’ll need to create a Thank You LeadPage as well that people will see after they register.
  • Make sure to save and publish your webinar LeadPage.

*Bonus Step: Use the LeadPages WordPress Plugin

  • If your website is built on WordPress you can install the free LeadPages plugin and create custom URLs (AWESOME!).
  • You could also create custom bit.ly links to your LeadPage if you don’t use WordPress.
  • You could also have a developer help you move the LeadPage code to your site (I have no experience with this).

Step #4: Drive traffic to your webinar LeadPage

  • I consistently saw that 7-9 days was a good timeframe to run Facebook Ads and promote my webinar LeadPage.I’ll be creating a detailed breakdown of using Facebook Ads soon!
  • Use social media and your email list(s) to get people to register for the webinar.
  • Here’s an example email I sent to one of my lists: View example email
  • Remember to drive home the value of all the awesome free content you’ll be sharing on the webinar!

Step #5: Schedule your webinar email reminders

  • In GTW you can schedule reminders (I like 1 day before and 1 hour before).
  • Because people are busy, I also send a customized email through MailChimp to the webinar registration list 15 minutes before the webinar. Here’s an example email I sent: View example email

Step #6: It’s webinar day! 

  • I recommend clicking “Start Webinar” 10-15 minutes before your webinar time. This gives you a chance to say hello to people as they show up, but also to check your audio and make sure your presentation/content is ready.
  • Get people warmed up and ready by asking them questions and interacting/engaging.
  • *IMPORTANT* Make sure to hit “Start Broadcast” and then hit “Record” to record the webinar.
  • Rock your webinar and use the 10/40/10 rule:10 minutes of what problem you’re about to solve for people and your introduction40 minutes of quality content! Give away the farm!10 minutes of your course sales pitchThen stick around for Q&A (as long as you can)
  • I’m a big fan of doing “webinar only bonuses” and timed availability to purchase a course.
  • When your webinar is done, convert the recording and upload the recording to Wistia, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.
  • Create a page for your webinar recording with LeadPages.

Step #7: Send your first post-webinar email

  • GTW gives you a CSV file you can download and import into your webinar list in MailChimpThis might seem redundant, but you never know who showed up late, if people shared your webinar with friends, etc.Copy the Email, First Name and Last Name columns and paste them into a new spreadsheet. Save as CSV and import into MailChimp.
  • This email should include a link to your webinar recording, any bonus you promised the attendees and a short pitch about purchasing your course. Here’s an example email I sent: View example email

Step #8: Send your second post-webinar email (the day after)

  • Here’s an example email I sent: View example email
  • I typically send 3-4 follow up emails, each delivering some extra value.

*Remember folks, you’re trying to SELL an online course, not just create one and have it live in the Internet ether.

Step #9: Send your third post-webinar email (two days after)

Step #10: Send your fourth post-webinar email (three days after)

Step #11: Send your FINAL post-webinar email (four days after)

You did it! You created and implemented a webinar sales funnel. But I have a couple more thoughts for you:

  1. All of the stuff outlined above will take an hour or two to set up the first time. Once you do it once, it’s a few clicks of your mouse to create another funnel (copy a webinar, duplicate a LeadPage, add new MailChimp list, replicate emails, etc).
  2. I like to make myself extremely available for any questions during the post-webinar process. People will have questions!
  3. Practice makes perfect. You should host a webinar (or five) with just you and a friend. Practice your content. Practice your pitch. Get really comfortable using GTW.
  4. Write sales copy that resonates with you and your target audience. You might hate my sales copy. That’s totally fine. It’s what I tested and tweaked and worked for my audience and course prospects. You have to be comfortable with what you sell!
  5. You will mess things up. Just mentally prepare that things will go wrong and it’s not the end of the world.
  6. Start small. Don’t try to get 1,000 people on your first webinar. Aim to get 20-30 and learn from the experience. Then continue to grow as you see fit.

Let's Look at Course Revenue, Expenses, and Profit

PHEW! I know that was a ton of information. You’re getting months of experience crammed into one article, so it might seem overwhelming at first. Just break this process down into smaller steps and it’s not as hard as you think.

I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all method to selling online courses, but the webinar funnel has worked well for me. Now let’s talk numbers!

Total Course Revenue in 2014: $32,680

This is where a lot of online marketers hide; in their numbers. I’ve read more blog posts about “6-figure launches” and “$10,000+ in sales per month” that don’t seem to go into truthful detail. To be honest, I think Pat Flynn is one of the few people who shares his actual numbers. There are other folks out there who share monthly income reports, but after digging into them I always seem to find a few holes that raise giant red flags. There should be no red flags below.

April 2014 Total Profit: -$985 

No course sales, this month was just building the course.

  • -$900 for 1/2 Course Development
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$10 for YouCanGetSponsors.com domain name

May 2014 Total Proft: +$7,632.22

First month of sales! Did three webinars, all sign ups from email lists and social media.

  • -$900 for 2/2 Course Development
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • – $264.78 for Stripe FeesStripe is the payment processing company I use (like PayPal, Authorize.net, etc)Stripe charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • $8,946 in Course Sales (18 courses sold at $497 per)

June 2014 Total Proft: +$1,170.08

This was my first attempt at using only Facebook Ads and trying a slightly higher course price point (and bonuses). There was only one webinar in June. I also invested in a community manager for the course Facebook group.

  • -$649.38 for Facebook Ads
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • -$67.54 for Stripe Fees
  • -$250 for Facebook Group Community Manager (payment 1 of 2)
  • $2,288 in Course Sales (3 courses at $597 and 1 at $497)

July 2014 Total Proft: +$1,871.50

Only one webinar in July, driven by Facebook Ads again.

  • -$449.41 for Facebook Ads
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • -$75.09 for Stripe Fees
  • $2,538 in Course Sales (3 courses at $597, 1 at $497 and 1 at $250 for a friend)

August 2014 Total Proft: +$2,823.53

Ran three webinars in August, driven by Facebook Ads. Testing different calls to action, photos and LeadPage webinar templates. Second payment for course community manager.

  • -$1,701.63 for Facebook Ads
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • -$58.84 for Stripe Fees
  • -$250 for Facebook Group Community Manager (payment 1 of 2)
  • $1,998 in Course Sales (4 courses at $497)
  • $1,998 in Course Sales (4 courses at $497, paid via Square Cash – no fees)
  • $1,000 in Course 1-on-1 (Skype call and building a strategy for a course taker)

September 2014 Total Proft: +$2,909.93

Two webinars in September, driven by FB Ads.

  • -$1,357.52 for Facebook Ads
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • -$73.55 for Stripe Fees
  • $2,485 in Course Sales (4 courses at $497)
  • $1,998 in Course Sales (4 courses at $497, paid via Square Cash – no fees)

October 2014 Total Proft: +$3,693.85

Two webinars in October. Both driven by email lists only.

  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • -$119.15 for Stripe Fees
  • $2,364 in Course Sales (12 courses at $197 – Only available via immediate purchase on webinar, no follow up emails)
  • $994 in Course Sales (2 courses at $497 – Sold via course sales page and mention in my email list welcome email)
  • $597 in Course Sales (1 course at $597 – Person emailed from July and asked if I’d honor the price)

November & December 2014 Total Proft: +$4,137.37

One webinar in November and a Cyber Monday deal on December 1.

  • -$1,090.11 for Facebook Ads (tried to sell $1,000 course option only)
  • -$75 for MailChimp Account
  • -$67 for LeadPages Account
  • -$104.52 for Stripe Fees
  • $2,480 in Course Sales (10 courses at $248 – 50% OFF Cyber Monday deal)
  • $994 in Course Sales (2 courses at $497 – Sold via course sales page and mention in my email list welcome email)
  • $2,000 in Course Sales (Skype call and building a strategy for 2 course takers)

Total Course Revenue in 2014: $32,680

Total Course Expenses in 2014: -$8,441.52

Total Course Profit: $24,238.48

It was really interesting to go through these numbers. It should be abundantly clear that selling a product to your own list, where you’ve built trust for months/years will always convert better (and with lower expenses). But, I saw a fairly consist trend of spending $500-ish in Facebook Ads and generating $1,500 to $2,500 in revenue. That’s not bad for a small side project!

*Note: Something you don’t see in the financials above is a monthly cost for GoToWebinar. I’ve had a working relationship with them for a few years and thus don’t pay for an account. For good measure here’s how the numbers would have been affected had I needed to pay for a $399/month GoToWebinar account:

  • 7 months of payments (first 30 days free): -$2,973
  • Adjusted total expenses: -$11,234.52
  • Adjusted total profit: $21,445.48

One other thing I should mention is the time spent building, marketing and selling my course. I estimate that building my online course (content) took about 40 hours. The sales funnel outlined above took about 10 hours. Then each month I spent another 3-4 hours (including actual time on a webinar). Even if we round up the total hours to 100, that’s still making $242 per hour.

I’m sure I could have continued to run weekly webinars and seen similar numbers. So why didn’t I?
 

I Stopped Selling My Course to Focus on Building Teachery

During my time creating and selling my online course people continued to ask about the platform I was using. The students who purchased my course. My friends I showed it to. Even people who attended webinars that didn’t buy my course, but saw photos of it, wanted to know more.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, I’ve been trading time for money for years. While running a weekly webinar certainly doesn’t take a ton of time, it’s still in the same wheelhouse (and felt the same way). So instead, I decided to focus more on the question I kept getting asked and started building Teachery with my co-founder Gerlando Piro.

Teachery is our solution for the problems I had building and selling an online course. While it’s not going to build a sales funnel for you, it makes every other step of the online course creation and selling process simple. And hopefully this post has given you more than you need to start building and selling your first (or 10th) online course.

If you decide to give Teachery a try (which is 100% free for 14 days), I’d like to help you build, market and sell your course. Once you sign up you’ll receive a few emails from me about Teachery, but feel free to contact me at any time (jason@teachery.co).

I hope you’ll think about building your own online course, I know I’m certainly glad I decided to dive in.

Did this answer your question?